PHOENIX (AP)—Phoenix coach Mike D’Antoni couldn’t believe what he was seeing. Neither could his assistants.
What they were watching was the Suns playing one of their best games of the season and handing the Houston Rockets their worst loss of the year.
Steve Nash scored 21 points and had eight assists and fellow All-Star Shawn Marion had 16 points and 12 rebounds, helping the Suns beat the Rockets 109-75 Thursday night for their fourth straight victory.
“Let’s bottle it,” D’Antoni said after one of the Suns’ most lopsided wins of the season. “I think it was one of our best defensive efforts of the season. Even the coaching staff was stunned.”
In fact, it was the Suns’ finest defensive performance. The previous low for an opponent was 81 points, twice. Phoenix now is 57-0 all-time when holding an opponent under 80 points.
The Suns accomplished their defensive feat by smothering Houston’s two high scorers, Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming. They combined for only 16 points and five rebounds, all by McGrady, in just over 45 minutes played.
The Suns go into the All-Star break with a 35-17 record and a 4 1/2 -game lead over the Los Angeles Clippers in the Pacific Division. Phoenix is 18 games over .500 for the first time this season, after winning seven of its last eight games.
The Rockets, who had won three straight and seven of eight, fell to 22-31 and are in last place in the Southwest Division.
Houston coach Jeff Van Gundy was disgusted with his team’s lack of effort.
“We put nothing into the game,” he said. “When you put very little into the game, you get very little out of the game.”
Prior to this game, Houston had held nine consecutive opponents under 100 points, but couldn’t withstand the fast-breaking Suns, who outshot, outhustled and wore them down through the first three periods.
In contrast, the Suns now have scored at least 100 points in a season-best 15 games. They already had 98 after three periods.
Stromile Swift led Houston with 13 points and McGrady, who had eight in the first quarter, and Luther Head each scored 10. Yao, who scored only eight points in the first meeting against the Suns this season, ending his string of 54 straight games in double figures, finished with only six.
“I was trying to make him shoot over the top and take away any easy baskets,” Marion said after guarding McGrady.
“We clamped down on him,” Kurt Thomas said of his defensive work against the frustrated Yao. “We took him out of his game.”
Hitting 10 3-pointers and outrunning the slow-footed Rockets, the Suns bolted to a 32-point first-half lead, 63-31. Showing no signs of being tired although playing their second game in two nights, the Suns closed the half with a 14-0 run that included 3s by Nash and Bell. House, who hit his first four shots, including three 3-pointers, scored 11 in the second period and Bell had 10, also with a pair of 3s.
After taking a 31-18 lead after one period, Phoenix outscored the Rockets 32-13 in the second quarter, holding McGrady to two points. Yao was even more anemic. By halftime, he had taken two shots and failed to score and had not grabbed a rebound in 12:36.
Bell was the scoring leader at halftime with 15 points, followed by Nash with 14. McGrady, playing with a wrap around his left leg, led the Rockets with 10, but was shooting only 4-for-13.
The Suns continued their onslaught in the third period, building their lead to 98-53, with the help of three more 3-pointers. Yao finally got into the scoring column, sinking two foul shots and two dunks. But McGrady, guarded closely by Marion, was held scoreless, missing both his field goal attempts.
“We didn’t have any energy,” McGrady said. “It was just flat out ugly for us.”
Suns forward James Jones missed the game with a sprained right wrist, and coach Mike D’Antoni said he was day-to-day. D’Antoni also said Jones would need another X-ray to determine if there is further damage to the wrist, which Jones injured in Wednesday night’s game at Denver. … The Suns’ 32-point first-half lead was their largest at intermission since Nov. 10, 1990, when they led Denver by 40 points, 107-67. It’s also the largest first-half lead for any NBA team this season. … Houston’s 13 second-period points were the fewest by a Suns’ opponent this season. … Marion’s double-double was his league-leading 40th of the season. … The road team had won the previous six games in the Houston-Phoenix series. … Nash reached 9,000 career points when he hit a 3-pointer with 8:41 gone in the game. … Although the Suns lead the league in scoring and free throw percentage, they are on pace to finish the season with the fewest foul shots made and attempted in NBA history.